About Brebner

About Brebner Primary School

The history of Brebner FOUNDING OF THE SCHOOL (1898 – 1906)

Before 1900, the history of this school seems to be a bit vague and uncertain, what can be established , however is that before the Anglo – Boer War in 1899, a so – called Railway Camp School was opened.

During the period 1900 – 1903, while Mr Sargant was Superintendent of Education this school was incorporated with the new Railway Government School with a Mr C W Dunnet as principal. The new school was housed partly in wood and iron buildings in Glen Road and partly in the upper storey of the Hostel for Apprentices in Bree Street which had been opened in 1898. The ground floor of this building was occupied by the police.

The foundation stone in the present Brebner High School foyer reads:
“Gelegd door Z H Ed. M T Steyn Staatspresident – Februarie 1898” and it is presumed that this was laid during the days of the old Orange Free State Republic and before British rule of the Free State.

It can also further be safely assumed that the school was primarily started to accommodate the many children of parents who had left their farms either as a result of the war or as a result of the great drought at the beginning of the century.

The Beginging

The origins of Brebner thus lie in the meeting of the specific needs of the community, indeed a community that would have been in the midst of a traumatic change and also a community that would be striving to find a niche in a very changing world. Again history shows us that this community was also controversial and had to fight for recognition and acceptance in the Bloemfontein Society. The newly established school would also have faced the same challenges as the community and had presumably already started an historical trend that would always be a characteristic of Brebner i.e. maintaining its own unique image and ethos and finding its own niche in a city that had many famous “established” schools.

A further characteristic of the community in which the school mushroomed in the beginning of the century, was its ability to stand together and it was this camaraderie amongst community members which ensured the survival and indeed, elevation of the entire community. Even up to the present times, one of the characteristics of the Brebner family is the ability to stand together during difficult times – the feeling of camaraderie amongst the students.

In June 1904 the roll has reached 586 and plans were drawn for the new buildings on the old Show Grounds in Glen Road. The foundation Stone of the new building was laid by Lieutenant – Governor of the Free State, Sir Hamilton Goold – Adams, in the 16th February 1906 and the school was formally opened by Earl Selborne, the High Commissioner of South Africa on 2nd July 1906, under the new title, Brebner Schools.

The name, was in honour of Dr John Brebner.

This Scotsman was the first Superintendent General of Education of the Orange Free State under British rule, and he did pioneering work in restoring quality education to the province as well as unifying education in schools.

The Peacock Era (1906 – 1933)

In July 1906 Mr A Peacock became principal, the roll then being 605. In 1907 a standard 7 class was added. Up to this time, the school had catered for Afrikaans and English speaking pupils but in 1917 it was converted into an English medium school with academic, technical and commercial classes. In other words, in 1917 Brebner began to assume its present form and developed its special English medium character. It never lost its particular association with the Railways and hundreds of early Railway officials enjoyed their first schooling here. After having served the school for nearly 27 years Mr Peacock retired on pension in June 1933.

The Golightly Era (1933 – 1952)

After having been an inspector of schools for a brief period, Mr W Golightly accepted the post of principal / headmaster in 1933. In this year the present school colours were adopted. The subsequent years saw considerable additions to the buildings, culminating in the erection of a new Secondary School in Hilton, which was formally opened by the then administrator, Dr S P Barnard, in February 1946. One of Mr Golightly’s dreams had been the erection and opening of a hostel for Brebner. Attempts had been made in 1904 and then in 1921 and again in 1936 to obtain a hostel, but to no avail. Finally in 1952, shortly before Mr Golightly’s retirement, progress was made when the Anglican Church started taking an active interest in the hostel project.

At the end of 1952, after 19 years devotion to this school, Mr Golightly retired on pension.

It was also during this time that one of the legends of Brebner, Mr Sammy Bell joined the teaching staff as mathematics teacher in1921, subsequently serving the school for over 50 years until 1971. He died on 31 May 1975 and the High School Hall was named the “Bell Hall” in his honour.

The W L (Boet) Roux Era (1953 – 1960)

Mr W L (Boet) Roux became headmaster in 1953, and only in 1955 did the school get its first boarding accommodation which was run by the Anglican church, in form of St Aiden’s for girls and St Peter’s for boys.

It was during Mr Roux’s term as headmaster that Brebner celebrated it’s 50 years existence. The most appropriate summary of Brebner’s development at that stage can be given by the following extract from his address on that auspicious occasion:

“I have said that Brebner, through the short 50 years of its existence has developed a character of its own and a proud tradition of service to the community. It has always been a reservoir of efficient labour to many Government Departments and most commercial firms of this city. It occupies a position which is unique among school in the OFS, it being the only purely English medium school with both secondary and primary classes catering for pupils of both sexes.

A school is but a collection of buildings and it is the spirit which animates its teachers and its pupils which gives it meaning and life. Its greatness depends on the amount of affection it inspires in the hearts of all who attend, from the youngest pupil on the mere threshold of school life, to the oldest ex-pupil who was enrolled fifty years ago. Proud of our achievements, proud of our traditions, we enter today into the next half-century with confidence”.

The Van Niekerk Era (1962 – 1966)

These years at Brebner were years of consolidation and were also to be a time when political events in the country were to greatly affect the immediate future of the school. The coming of The Republic in South Africa saw a strengthening of the Governing party and in particular a stringent hold on the education system which allowed schools very little flexibility and innovation. Indeed schools were to be encouraged (if not forced) into conformity and Brebner once had to fight hard to maintain its niche in Bloemfontein as an English medium school which stood for less rigid, more liberal education. It was during these and the next twenty odd years that the unique feeling of “esprit de Corps” really developed amongst the pupils themselves in their efforts to ensure that the uniqueness of Brebner was to be maintained during a very oppressive and restrictive departmental management style which was applied at that time.

The Bierman Era (1967 – 1977) (Affectionately known as the “Batman Era”)

Bierman became headmaster. It was during this period that many foreign pupils, mainly Portuguese and Greek speaking, started attending Brebner and in 1967 the first teacher to specifically assist foreign pupils, was appointed, this special service to foreign pupils was to continued for many years.

During 1974 the school’s Cader Band won the National Competition and was allowed a march past in the City from
Hoffman Square to the City Hall. This was indicative of the autocratic and even military – like type of education
which was popular at the time. An interesting development was the introduction of rugby as a school sport, instead of soccer, based on the “pure educational grounds” even though it met with great opposition from the parents.

A highlight of this time was the moving of the school to its present modern buildings and spacious grounds in January 1975. The hostel was to move a few months later and the buildings were officially opened on 21 October 1975. The hostel was also taken over by the Government in 1975 ending a period of more than 25 years of being run and supported by the Anglican church who at that time provided an invaluable service to the school, also in the form of spiritual support of the pupils by the Anglican priests.

It was also in Mr Biermann’s final year as headmaster, 1977, that a long – time dream of his came true – a war memorial was unveiled at Brebner on Remembrance Day, 11 November. It is stainless steel sculpture by Mike Edwards in the form of an embracing cross.

The Spears Era (1978 – 1993)

IN 1978 Mr Hilary Spears took over the reigns as the new chapter in the history of this great school – a school which could now pride itself as being the most progressive and forward – looking school in Bloemfontein at that time. A school which began providing itself an educational and social leader toward the normalisation of South Africa by being the first in the OFS to open its doors to all South Africans, irrespective of race, creed or culture.

The following can be quoted from the 1982 annual report of the headmaster: “Here at Brebner we provide a genuinely South African English style of Education. Our aim is to preserve and cherish the culture, background and heritage of the English speaking South African and let me stress that it is not to oppose the Afrikaans style, but to complement it so that with mutual understanding we can form a united front for the good of our children and of our country.”
This emphasis was to place Brebner in conflict with the education viewpoints of the Free State at that time and lead to a relaxing of general discipline so that many of the conservative parents also ultimately left the school.

Major developments during this period included the privatisation of the hostel in 1990. In 1991 the school opted to be a “Model B” school which enabled it to unreservedly admit pupils of all races even though the Government of the day still propagated a policy of racially segregated schools. Brebner was the first Government school in the province to adopt this model.

In 1992 Brebner became so – called “Model C” state aided school which allowed of a large measure of management autonomy for the school. This period of the school’s history was characterised by hard work to integrate the various races into the school but also to maintain academic standards which were seriously challenged by the influx of students from under - privileged and under – developed education systems, during a time of political upheaval in the country.

The Donald Era (1994 – 2014)

In 1994 the present headmaster, Mr A W Taylor , took on the challenging responsibility of heading this dynamic and vibrant school and leading it on its destined path of change. From the outset the task was to prove a daunting one with major changes taking place in the RSA political scene and with the tremendous number of “new” students wanting to attend the school. The fear of change, racial and cultural diversity and the perceived lack of discipline also led to the majority of white students leaving the school for other more “white” schools in Bloemfontein.

This did not deviate the school from its chosen path and to accommodate more students from so - called under privileged backgrounds. To improve the standard of administration and management of the school, it was decided to separate Brebner into two autonomous schools, sharing a common heritage and continuing to share certain facilities. Mr Des Donald was appointed as headmaster of the Primary School. The total enrollment of the Brebner complex increased from 880 in 1994 to 1600 in 1996. The Primary school consequently moved to its own premises in Deale Road in 1998

Brebner High School has also been affected by the bumpy period of transition especially in education, in the country. The school has, however, successfully managed to overcome most of the hurdles and even though the population distribution / composition of the school has changed dramatically, Brebner still remains true to its real traditions.


The Jones Era (2015 - TO DATE)




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